Pandemic Response and Recovery 2020 – 2021

As the region appears to be turning a corner with lower COVID-19 infection rates and the easing of pandemic restrictions, we wanted to review NYMTC’s efforts to keep the region moving as safely as possible during these last two years.

Emerging Challenges
NYMTC’s member agencies responded to and overcame a variety of pandemic- related challenges to keep the transportation system operating.
Organizational Impacts
Transit providers and facility managers continued operation in the face of personnel shortages due to illness and quarantine. In many cases transit schedules and routes had to change in response. Fare and toll revenue dropped dramatically as fewer people traveled, and the production and shipping of necessary equipment slowed and became unpredictable. Coordination between agencies became even more crucial to communicate with the public, share information and support service decisions.
Operational Vulnerabilities
Protection of workers and customers became an even greater responsibility for transit providers and facility managers. With the rapid transition to remote work, transit providers had to adjust service and keep transit riders and workers informed about service changes and travel requirements. Planning and construction of large projects was interrupted while the providers faced uncertain funding.
Empty subway Photo by Paulo Silva on Unsplash
Supply Chain Vulnerabilities
Product supply chains faced severe constraints, straining the availability of food and other consumer goods. Power plants faced supply constraints due in part to transportation issues, disrupting energy distribution systems. There was a surge in demand for medical supplies, including increased demand for medical and Personal Protective Equipment (PPE), and pharmaceutical products.
Transportation Impacts
Maintaining transit services was a critical element in supporting essential workers. Roads, bridges, and tunnels needed to remain open to allow essential travel and goods deliveries. Ride hailing and taxi services, car and bicycle sharing, and electric bicycles and scooters all experienced increased demand and use. Air travel demand declined precipitously.

Responding to the Emergency
NYMTC’s member agencies and staff responded to the emergency using ingenuity, creativity, and dedication to keep the transportation system operating and available.
Protecting Employees and Customers
  • Transit agencies provided free masks to employees and customers at stations, on buses, and through initiatives such as the MTA’s Mask Force, and ambassador programs. The MTA also installed PPE vending machines to provide select items at a cost. 
  • All transit systems required face coverings for passengers.
  • The region’s bus systems acted quickly to implement rear-door boarding to protect bus drivers from the spread of the virus during the initial pandemic lockdown, from roughly March through early September 2020. 
  • Bus systems installed driver safety shields to reduce interactions between bus drivers and passengers once front-door boarding was reinstated and expanded existing safety barrier installation on its buses.
  • The MTA and suburban bus systems began an unprecedented cleaning regimen on subways, buses, paratransit vans, and commuter rails, with disinfecting methods such as ultraviolet light, antimicrobial sprays, and using COVID-19 sanitizing specialists to employ state-of-the art cleaning.
Keeping Travelers Informed
  • In July 2020, the MTA launched “Operation Respect” to encourage universal mask compliance, with English and Spanish announcements on subway, bus, and commuter rail systems, with the Port Authority of NY & NJ and NJ TRANSIT joining. In Rockland County, Transport of Rockland informed customers of passenger requirements and provided real-time service information.
  • Transit systems used digital communication tools to provide customers with real-time boarding information. For example, NICE bus in Nassau County instituted a system that dispatches buses based on the number of people boarding buses in real-time, helping to reduce crowds and accommodate social distancing.
  • Westchester County closely tracked ridership on its Bee-Line System buses to provide more efficient and continued service, carefully monitoring the number of bus passengers to identify any needed additional vehicles to reduce crowding. Similarly, Suffolk County deployed larger vehicles on Suffolk Transit to promote social distancing and ease overcrowding.

Woman in mask on subway Photo by Ono Kosuki on Pexels

Supporting Supply Chains
Working through the Metropolitan Area Planning (MAP) Forum, NYMTC’s member agencies and staff shared information on supply chain impacts of the pandemic and coordinated measures to maintain supply chain operations.
The MAP Forum is a consortium of ten MPOs and Councils of Governments from Connecticut, New Jersey, New York, and Pennsylvania to better coordinate planning activities in the multi-state New York City metropolitan region.
Nearly 300 trucking industry workers and drivers responded to a May 2020 survey conducted through the MAP Forum, in cooperation with the New York City Economic Development Corporation (NYCEDC), the New York City Department of Transportation (NYCDOT), and the New Jersey Department of Transportation. The survey was designed to explore how truck movements changed during the pandemic, the availability and condition of parking facilities, and what rest area amenities truck drivers sought. Survey results are available here.
Early in the pandemic, the MAP Forum’s Multi-State Freight Working Group worked together to ensure that traveler rest areas and amenities continued operation, sharing useful information on supply chain issues and performance. NYCEDC and NYCDOT partnered to help truckers safely meet Federal Motor Carrier Safety Administration mandatory rest periods by establishing temporary rest areas at two strategic freight hubs.

2020_Truck_Parking_Survey Source: NJTPA
Researching and Reporting
NYMTC member agencies throughout the region have undertaken research and reporting projects to understand the broad impacts of the pandemic and enable effective, informed responses.
The New York City Department of City Planning (NYCDCP) undertook a program of pandemic-related research, drawing data from the MTA and facility operators to produce weekly travel reports, and a summary of the impact of the pandemic on travel and the economy. NYCDCP expanded on this work by modeling daytime populations under different future scenarios of telework, identifying their impact by travel mode and type of industry. The distribution of the New York City workforce is uneven by industry across the city and the region, so the impacts are felt differently by geography and by travel mode. For more information, see the 2020 Travel Trends report here.
To add to NYCDCP’s travel research highlighting pandemic impacts on MTA services, NYMTC staff collected ridership data from the five suburban bus systems on Long Island and in the Lower Hudson Valley. NYMTC staff also compiled a COVID-19 Resources section on the NYMTC homepage, providing access to NYCDCP’s research, as well as that of the Federal Highway Administration, the American Public Transit Association, and C2SMART (a U.S. Department of Transportation Tier 1 University Transportation Center).
The MAP Forum developed a COVID-19 page on its website, titled Impact of COVID-19 on the MAP Forum Region available here. The page features an infographic and two charts that show the impact COVID-19 has had on travel patterns in the MAP Forum region, specifically on vehicle miles traveled (VMT).

MAP Forum Infographic Source: NJTPA

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